Public and private sectors collaborate to push Park East development
This morning Mayor Tom Barrett, County Executive Chris Abele and Jim Barry of the Commercial Association of Realtors (CARW) held a press conference on the site of demolished Sydney Hih building on the corner of 3rd and Juneau to talk about the future of the roughly four square blocks -- just over 11 acres -- of Park East land that runs west from the river.
The land was opened up for development with the 2002 demolition of the Park East freeway spur.
"For a long period of time there has been nothing going on this site, but that doesn't mean that this part of the city has been dormant," Barrett said. "Completely surrounding this area there has been a lot of activity going on. Now is our time to work together as a community to do what we can to enliven this area."
Barrett pointed the The Moderne, the Aloft hotel, the headquarters of Bartolotta Restaurants, development at The Brewery site, the new Bucks' ownership and discussions about a new arena, and a new pocket park and Associated Bank that are currently under construction.
"The continued development of the Park East will be a major spur to economic development not only in this corridor but really throughout the state, throughout the region," said Barry. "It will mean a new, modern gateway to Downtown Milwaukee."
Barrett, Barry and Abele all mentioned the most high-profile project -- and failure -- that's been discussed for the space: the attempt to lure the Kohl's headquarters Downtown.
"That's water over the dam," Barrett said. "What we have now is an opportunity going forward ... we feel that this part of Downtown is ready to explode."
About 100 realtors, brokers, media and others were on hand to hear about a new marketing campaign and streamlined, rolling RFP process to get deals done on this land.
"What we're doing here is we're bringing the A team," Barrett said. "But what we really need is the private sector, the realtors, the brokers, the brokers who know the businesses and know the opportunities."
Part of that marketing campaign is site signage, a logo, a brochure and a web site. These are the result of an ad hoc committee that included representatives from the city, the county, the state and CARW.
"After we unfortunately didn't get a giant Kohl's headquarters down here a bunch of us wanted to make sure we learned everything we possibly could out of it so we decided to put together a task force and asked as many people who had something to contribute to that discussion and could inform it as possible," Abele said. "We spent a lot of time deconstructing what went right, what went wrong. What did we do well and what could we do better?"
Abele added that many questions stood in the way of development. There was confusion, he said, about ownership of the land, regulation, permitting and zoning.
"Questions come up and they're complicated," he said.
The committee was tasked with discussing all of this, according to Barry.
"Today we begin the implementation of the vision that came out of that committee," he said. "We realize that the Park East is an extremely unique and an extremely marketable property, and in the wake of the Kohl's pursuit all interested parties have become aligned in an effort to make this corridor succeed."
"I think it's surprising that it's taken this long to get to this step," said Paul Galbraith, who is senior vice president at Cresa Milwaukee, a commercial real estate brokerage firm, and a CARW member. "I'm surprised that the marketing plan has taken this long to develop."
But, he added, the lack of a marketing strategy hasn't really been the biggest issue in getting this stretch of the Park East developed. For Galbraith, the biggest obstacle has been getting answers to the questions Abele acknowledged.
"There was no way for brokers to understand how they would get paid, if they would get paid," Galbraith said. "So they were not incentivized to work on a deal in the Park East. Even more importantly there weren't site plans, there was no repository of information that you go to to understand which sites are available, the sizes, what the process would be, length of term, how long it would take to get a deal done."
Now that CARW has helped the city and county, who own the land, get all of that -- along with the marketing plan and RFP process -- sorted out, Galbraith believes development can move forward.
"I'm not surprised that the land has sat vacant for as long as it has," he says, noting the struggles faced by the real estate market in recent years.
"I don't think that any deals didn't happen because we didn't have this in place. Deals that made sense for the area got a shot, but I think this will certainly make the process easier for the next deal that comes along.
"A commission structure has been established. A mechanism has been established to pay brokers a commission if they bring a client to the park east. That incentivizes us to bring our clients, come up with ideas, create a deal, essentially."
The Park East is a fantastic symbol of what Milwaukee's leadership has meant for and done for the city. Barrett came into office 2 years after that spur was taken down, pretty much the exact time that space was ripe for development. That land has sat there, concrete cracking and bulging up from the ground, weeds and other invasive growth taking root... and Barrett just watched it happened. The guy literally watches grass grow. The North Side keeps shooting itself to death, and wide open swaths of land in the heart of downtown go unused, all under this guys watch. Yet, he'll get his name on a ballot, toss a (D) next to it, and pull in 80+% of the vote. And people can't figure out why things don't get better for Milwaukee...
12 years in and we have a plan!! At this rate, we should have shovels in the ground by the year 2100. Huzzah!
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